By Dr. Neeta Pant

Have you ever been told that you’re “too sensitive” or that you “shouldn’t think/worry so much,” or that you ‘get hurt easily’? Do you hear this particularly from people who strike you as too insensitive or who you believe should think a little more?  If this does resonate with you, you might be a ‘Over Sensitive Person’ (OSP from hereon).

What Does Being Over-Sensitive Mean?

  • You get ‘easily hurt’ by the remarks & behavior of others
  • You ‘feel disheartened and depressed’ when you don’t meet expectations
  • You have ‘constant fear of rejection’
  • You go out of your ways to ‘help’ others
  • You struggle to ‘let go of negative emotions’
  • You make huge effort for the ‘comfort of others ‘
  • You are sensitive to the ‘needs of others’
  • You try to ‘keep everyone happy’
  • You often ‘worry about what others think’

Impact of being an OSP –

Being over-sensitive is a trait that brings both strengths and challenges.  It is possible to get easily offended by people who mean no harm or are trying to be kind to you.  It is also possible to overreact to daily stresses or issues. On the other side, it can make you more aware of your surroundings and the people in it. It is a personality trait that involves increased responsiveness to both positive and negative influences.

Effect on daily life –

  1. Avoiding situations –  OSPs may be more affected by certain situations such as tension, violence, and conflict, which may lead them to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable.
  2. Deeply moved by beauty or emotionality –  OSPs tend to feel deeply moved by the beauty they see around them. They may cry while watching movies, can cry over lyrics of a song and can really empathize with the feelings of others, both negative and positive.
  3. Close bonds – They care deeply about their friends and tend to form deep bonds with the right people.
  4. Feeling a need for downtime – It’s not just a preference but the need, especially when one has hectic days; needing to retreat to a dark, quiet room.
  5. Having a rich and complex inner life – complete with deep thoughts and strong feelings that go with it.
  6. Gratitude and Appreciation – OSPs appreciate a fine wine, a good meal, or a beautiful song on a level that most people can’t access. They may feel more existential angst, but they also may feel more gratitude for what they have in life, knowing that nothing is certain. 

For OSPs, lows may be lower but highs may have the potential to be higher as well.

Potential Pitfalls

OSPs tend to get more stressed when faced with difficult situations. They may also be stressed by things that can happen to others.  In a conflict, they can perceive hostility or tension where others may not notice it.  Specific things that can be significantly stressful for the over-sensitive include :

  1.  Uncertainty And Unpredictability –  OSPs would like everything planned and scheduled for as they feel overwhelmed when they have to rush up things because of uncertainty.  They technically might be having enough time to get things done, but unpredictability or unplanned things make them feel uncomfortable and anxious.
  2. Expectation Of Others –  OSPs hate letting people down.  They tend to pick up on the needs and feelings of others.  Saying ‘NO’ is a challenge for them and they can feel crushed by the demands of others.  They also tend to be their own critics.  They feel happiness of others is their responsibility and so is their comfort.
  3. Conflicts – OSPs are more prone to stress through conflicts as they are more aware of picking signals of troubles brewing in relationships or when someone is a little ‘off’ who may or may not be having any problem with them.
  4. Social Comparison –  Oversensitive people are prone to the stress arising from social comparisons.  Capable of experiencing the negative feelings of self as well as others, they may feel the loss of a relationship more acutely as well and may engage in contemplations.
  5. Toleration Capacity – Daily energy drains that we have as tolerations create more stress for OSPs.  Life’s usual stresses like an argument, disagreement, conversations that have not gone in the perceived direction, someone late for the meeting do add up more frustration and annoyance for OSPs.
  6. Personal Failures  –  Rumination and self-doubts come naturally to OSPs as they are their own best critics.  They are often perfectionists, feel more embarrassed when they commit a mistake and do remember them as well for longer time than an average person.  They do not like being judged or evaluated especially when they are attempting something challenging and can be more clumsy and messy if they are being watched.

Now the question is – Is Oversensitivity something that one is born with? Something that one can brush away saying nothing can be done about it?  

Before jumping on to conclusions, we must know what are the contributors for over-sensitivity?

  • Childhood Trauma –  is the leading contributor, be it physical, emotional or sexual abuse, that throws the child into an ‘always on alert’ mode. 
  • Flawed Parenting – When the child does not have even one care-giver as reliable and dependable who can provide the unconditional love and trust that child craves for, it can lead to over-sensitivity.  Also if the parents were loving only when the child behaved nicely or did something good, the child grows up having ‘anxious attachment’. 

Both conditions makes the child over responsive, anxious and attuned to other’s reaction leading to over-sensitivity.  Important thing here is that both issues can be effectively treated with therapies.

Challenges of OSPs

  1. Greater levels of stress
  2. Prone to burn-outs
  3. Responsive to other people’s emotions
  4. Easily affected by criticism
  5. May slide into detrimental people-pleasing

Is there a way to ward off the hyper analysing trait, to avoid needless worries and constant stress?

Strategies to overcome over-sensitivity 

Recognise Unhelpful Thoughts –  Overthinking, negative self-talks, cognitive distortions and irrational beliefs stuck us in a mental loop.  Thoughts like – I know he dislikes me, She did not respond to my mail, I need to be perfect, I am good for nothing etc. comes naturally to OSPs.  It is worth an effort to take a pause, reflect on these thoughts deeply when they occur.  Focusing on negative thoughts will only put a spotlight on them.

Label and reframe the thoughts –  Try to find a positive alterative when negative thoughts occupy your mind.  Use the technique – ‘Rule of five’.  Think of five other ways to look at the issue in hand, think about what have you not considered as an option so far.  Rule of five helps us change our negative or unhelpful thoughts to neutral and eventually turn them into even balanced.  Challenge your ingrained response mechanism and you will automatically be handling situation with more poise and positivity.

Create Healthy Boundaries –  Here it means being more comfortable in letting people around you know where you stand and what you need.  This can mean creating more room in your schedule so that we don’t feel stressed when things inevitably go wrong, pile on or require an extra response from us.  If you don’t want people to barge into your room when you are at work, you can create schedules to meet people which will ease off unpleasant situations at both end.

Manage Stimulation –  For OSPs especially, it is impossible to remain calm when they are stressed and overwhelmed as they get over stimulated.  Quick solution here is to add break between two tasks/meetings.  Give yourself time to calm down, compose yourself before you get into another task.  Give time to decompress, leveraging your mental strength.

Find an Outlet –  We all know suppressing negative thoughts is like pushing a ball in the water, the more you push it, the more it bounces back.  Face this overthinking or negative thoughts boldly by designating a specific block of time to do nothing but to pour out your concerns.  Once you vent it out to self or to a confidant, you can plan some constructive action on them.

Know your triggers –  As an OSP, if you know your triggers, you can prepare for them and can easily avoid a stressful situation.  Triggers could be as simple as somebody walking into the meeting late or someone exhibiting impatience while you are explaining, someone pointing out your mistakes.  Once you know what can bother you, it becomes easy to fix that.

Stop Over-Thinking –  If you tend to overthink what someone said to you or about situation, or run into an overdrive and fantasise about thing that did not even happen, you need to stop that immediately.  When we make mountains out of the molehills, it becomes difficult for us to remain productive and calm. 

Spin your sensitivity –  Over-sensitivity can be turned into our strength as well.  Appreciate the strengths inherent in your personality that do not come easily to other like empathy, care, concern, perfection, diligence.  What feels like weaknesses can be an advantage as OSP tend to be high achievers & devoted to their work.

Learn when to stop –  OSPs have the innate ability to quickly assess what other want or need and how to make them happy.  Problem is more you give, more people will expect and ultimately you will feel empty, depleted, exhausted and unhappy.  You must know where to stop yourself.

Beware of Energy Vampires –  Most of the time people get attached to you for what you can do for them, for your kindness, care, empathy and love and they are all out to drain you of it.  Many a times they are capable but they just want you to do things for them.  When you feel depleted and used around someone, step away.  Remember, you are not responsible for other’s happiness or comforts and you have YOU to take care of.

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Over-sensitivity comes from a hidden core belief that the world is perhaps a dangerous place and we should not trust anyone.  This can be corrected through ‘therapeutic alliance’, so that we can start to trust others and the world once again. 

Over-sensitivity is not weakness but is the trademark of being truly alive and compassionate.  In fact, it is a trait that can be turned into strength.  Over-sensitivity is co-related with high-performing behaviours like diligence, loyalty, empathy, care, concern, conscientiousness, perfection.  It is essential to leverage the downside of an OSP which can include – overthinking, hyper-analysing, needless worry & being constantly on edge.   The first step towards thriving as a sensitive soul is to understand and accept your trait.  One should never be ashamed to let one’s tears shine a light in this world.

OSPs tend to have stronger emotional responses than others because they notice so many emotional cues that other miss, so that they are very ‘tuned in’ to feelings.  But it’s also because OSPs process things so deeply.

 Imagine if you felt every emotion five times longer and five times louder; that’s kind of what it’s like to be an OSP.

~ Andre Sólo

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